Monday, July 9, 2012

Once Every Couple of Decades, Whether It Needs It or Not


Last Friday, I finished my third pass through the Fiesta of Smoke manuscript. Each pass takes a couple of weeks of seven to ten hour days. Every space between words, every fact, the nuance of every word is subject to scrutiny. Obviously, this work takes a very intense focus. When I finished this time, the book was going to the copy editor, so it was getting more and more imperative to get it right.

So imagine my dismay, when I reached the end, at page 768 (to which the 1000-plus pages have been reduced through the magic of 12-point font), and looked around and discovered that my surroundings hadn’t had a really deep cleaning for almost two decades. Dear me! How could this have happened?

I used to be a really fine housekeeper but then I decided to have a life, instead. I mean, do you write a novel or do you clean the carpet? I’m not Superwoman nor am I bionic. It definitely had to be one or the other.

The consequences of setting out on the path toward a larger life were not immediately obvious. I mean, you can get away with not sweeping down the cobwebs for a year or two, before the house starts looking like a set for “Saw XII.” The thing is, while I was carefully training myself not to see the encroaching grunge, it was breeding. Multiplying geometrically. And doing it in an entirely furtive manner--lurking in dark corners, taking over the undersides of things, creeping to the back of cupboards.

Meanwhile, I set myself a nice little programme: 2 years for the masters degree; 5 years for the doctorate, during which time both parents fell ill and eventually died; then teaching, which as anyone who’s ever done it knows, consumes your life maximally, 24/7; then 3 years for Commune of Women; then the truly mad decision to complete Fiesta of Smoke within the following year; and then . . . well, here we are in the present, two decades later.

 The cobwebs in the light well above the shower can be measured in either yards or pounds, take you pick. I have this very day evicted no less than 3 black widow spiders from my kitchen, with a fourth awaiting David’s bolder, more huntsman-like approach. You’ve already been apprised of the metal confetti to which a rat has reduced my tubes of oil paints in the studio cupboard.

If you’ve ever lived in the country, you know that it’s a lifestyle best described as Entropy in Action. Even under the most fastidious management, things tend toward dissolution, falling apart, getting dirty or invasion by alien forces. One could easily expend an entire incarnation in pursuit of mere cleanliness.

For example, I vacuum the rug;. Sophia the cat, AKA The Vector, simply walks through and the carpet is seeded with foxtails and burrs, in a single pass. I dust my desk and a single car passing on the road sends dust boiling in to coat it, again, before I can even sit down to write. I put a clean plate or bowl in the pie cupboard while tidying up the kitchen at night. In the morning I reach for the same  plate or bowl and find it cabled in spider web.

This is not even to mention the depredations of weather: a 60-mph wind blasts a pane from the studio window and explodes it, all over everything. Snow sits down hard on a carefully tended bush in the garden and splits its branches off from the trunk. Rain blown horizontally across the ridge seeps under doors and windows, leaving stains.

This tendency of nature to invade and erode, coupled with benign neglect on my part, is the unholy marriage to which I am now awakening, like someone shaking off a decades-long spell. Where to start setting aright the devastation? I have plans to go about with a quart jar, removing daddy longlegs spiders from the rafters and transporting them to the shed. I am busily wiping down webs, washing windows, delving into hidey-holes and niduses of entrenched dirt. This will go on for weeks, possibly months.

However, running counter to that is another stream, which longs to spend time at  my easel, or at my sculpture stand out under the oaks, or gardening, or starting the next book . . . The river of benign neglect for housewifery is already gaining force. One day, it will simply sweep me away and in another 20 years, should I live so long, I’ll awaken one morning, take up my broom, and begin again the endless battle against the forces of entropy.

1 comment:

twilightme said...

AMEN! Just what I needed to read so that I might ignore the encroaching disarray at least until Fall, the timeline I've set for round one of my current writing project. I say this while staring at a fly neatly wrapped in a spider web in the corner of the window before my desk.
Patricia